Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cross Checks [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Rant answers: Marc-Andre Fleury's Vezina case, shortened schedules, Stars fallout

By Pierre LeBrun

Holy angst! We received the most responses I can ever remember for the Rant of the Week -- more than 300 were churned in this week. Well done, angry puckheads.

Let's take a look:

FelixJason: In light of the recent concussion news this week, do you think the league should go back and maybe stiffen up the penalties as some of these concussions are having serious implications on players and teams alike/ Marc Savard now is having memory issues, Sidney Crosby has been out for about a decade and i bet with the savard news the penguins are going to move very slowly even more than before in returning him, dave bolland didn't even look like he took that bad of an elbow from kubina and he still hasn't touched the ice since march 9.

Even from a team aspect, the penguins, bruins, blackhawks, these are all current playoff teams and it's hurting their respective teams bad. ... it just doesn't even out pierre; the most recent of those concussions was bolland and he has missed 6 games, kubina has been suspended 3. i think the penalty of suspension should be the duration that the injured player is out.

My take: Felix, maybe you missed Scott Burnside's fine coverage from the GMs meetings earlier this month, but the NHL and the 30 GMs announced they will indeed stiffen suspensions next season for head shots. Essentially, suspensions for similar acts will be doubled for next season. So whatever was a three-game suspension this season (Pavel Kubina on Dave Bolland), will be six games in 2011-12. The NHL will send out a DVD explaining this to all 30 teams and their players in time for training camp next fall.

thelizrdking1971: I'm sick of Colin Campbell and his inconsistent ways when disciplining players. Why is it that ______ has never been suspended or had an incident in 6yrs so we'll let him have a pass while on the other hand the same can be said about _______ yet we'll give him a ___ game suspension? Why for one player and not the other. When is the 1st infraction, the 2nd time he does something stupid or the 5th time when it's more severe? At one time it use to be "while we don't believe _____ intended to hurt _____ he still acted in a reckless manner and will receive a ____ game suspension. Seems like it's more and more about the name on the front AND the back of the jersey when it comes disciplining players.

My take: There are rumblings the NHL Players' Association wants to possibly make this a collective bargaining agreement issue for 2012. The union believes supplemental discipline should be presided by an independent body or voice. Not really sure how it would work, but keep an eye out for that. As for the current system, I don't always agree with Campbell's decisions on suspensions, but I should point out he doesn't act alone. Campbell canvasses a wide array of NHL executives (always from the conference opposite the player in question) and gathers opinions before rendering his decision. This isn't advertised much, but it is the case.

Kingcas87 Marc-Andre Fleury deserves more credit. The guy has carried the Penguins on his back since the loss of our top guys. After a terrible start to the regular season, he's put up some stellar numbers and is the sole reason (player-wise, Danny B [Dan Bylsma] and the coaches deserve a lot of respect) the Penguins are still in the playoff hunt at all. He's been nothing short of spectacular and was deservedly named Penguins MVP yesterday. While some may not think he deserves nods for Vezina or Hart trophies, the dude deserves more credit around the NHL as an elite goaltender.

My take: There were a lot of Fleury posts this week, and deservedly so. Where would the Penguins be without him this season, given their massive injuries to key players? The Vezina Trophy is voted on by the NHL's 30 GMs, so they'll decide where to rank Fleury alongside Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. What will hurt Fleury is he struggled for the opening six weeks of the season.

But there is no question he has been dynamite since and a major reason the Penguins have been able to survive the losses of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. His MVP case is similar to that of Price. I mean, where would the Habs be without Price? They'd be outside of the playoffs, that's where. Fleury, Price and Thomas will face competition from the likes of Daniel Sedin, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos when Hart Trophy votes are tallied in two weeks.

KingAdrock99: I don't get the "experts" assertion that either Rinne or Thomas are winning the Vezina this season. The most dominant goalie in the league is Henrik Lundqvist. ... This is his 6th consecutive season of recording 30+ wins to start his career (an NHL record) and with [Martin] Biron going down will play the final 26 games of the season. And he hasn't tired, he's actually gotten better, going 8-1-1 and recording a 1.70 GAA in his last 10 games! ... Because of Lundqvist, Rangers fans have forgotten about the teams chasing them and whether or not they'll make the playoffs but how far up the standings they're going to climb. Henrik is easily the choice for Vezina this year if for nothing else than just how clutch the man is with his league-high 11 shutouts and his 6-3 records in shootouts, sporting a .841 save percentage (Tim Thomas is .529!).

My take: Great post. With 11 shutouts, it's hard to argue against Lundqvist. Thomas, Rinne, Price, Lundqvist and Fleury are my group of five, but only three will get nominated. The pressure is on the 30 GMs to get it right!

ds7173: Why hasn't the league just gone to a straight seeding system? The Penguins should be in that two spot, ahead of both Boston (limping in) and surging Washington. It just makes no sense to me that after an 82 game season, you could put teams with worse records in the 2 and 3 spots ahead of a significantly better 4th place team. It may not play out that way here, because Washington and Pittsburgh are a dead-heat, but it very well could, and it could be a lot more dramatic difference in future years. Get rid of it.

My take: Because the league wants to keep divisional play relevant; winning the division means something. If you don't guarantee a top-three seed for a division title, there's no point in having divisions.

niconasr: No offense to any other fans of teams who've had bad years, months or weeks but this week, no fans should rant more than the Montreal Canadiens fans. Tension is pretty high here and when your team doesn't score a goal in three straight contests, I'm thinking it's justified. The worst is not that they haven't scored goals, it's that they barely get any chances to score. I counted maybe 4-5 in their last game against Washington.

I know the Habs aren't meant to be an offensive powerhouse and rely on defense and goaltending but can someone wake up our supposed 'talented players'? [Tomas] Plekanec has been very average coming back of his injury. [Brian] Gionta has hit a slump. [Michael] Cammalleri is talking to the refs more than he is shooting the puck. Scott] Gomez ... whatever! Lars Eller, Andrei Kostitsyn and David Desharnais have been our best forwards in the past month or so and that spells trouble for the playoffs. Price can't do everything. Even if he allows no goal or one, the Habs still have to score one or two. Only 6 games left before the playoffs, I just hope they'll get back on track.

My take: No doubt Habs fans have had a tough seven days, but I have to be honest, I just have never been sold on this team. They massively overachieved last spring (thank you, Jaroslav Halak). This season, if not for Price, Montreal would be on the outside looking in. I think what you're seeing now is reality.

flyboye6b: The Caps have 3 top goaltenders ranked in my eyes [Michal] Neuvirth, [Branden] Holtby then [Semyon] Varlamov. Why don't they trade Varlamov for a top end player. Sending Holtby down is wrong! The guy has been nothing short of LIGHTS OUT in every NHL game. Look at Varlamov and how shaky he looked against Ottawa in his first game back. Neuvirth and Holtby should be the primary goalies going into the Playoffs.

My take: Um, the trade deadline came and went Feb. 28, my friend. Can't trade anybody now. But nevertheless, you bring up an intriguing situation for the Capitals. Some teams would love to have three terrific, young options in goal; other teams would hate not having made up their mind by now. I think they'll just ride the hot hand come the playoffs, which means Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth should see time at some point. I don't see one goalie getting all the starts.

RaynTrouble: Pierre! Saw your tweet today on things you would change if you were the commish. I can't agree more! The thing basketball, baseball and especially hockey don't understand about why the NFL is such a juggernaut is that its short (by relative terms) season makes it special. We crave it because we are not inundated with it for more than half a year every year. Hockey is a wintery game. Watching Stanley Cup playoffs between teams other than the hometown team when it is 80 degrees outside ... is not even close to being an option. Wish you were the commish, my man!

My take: Yes, the schedule has been a pet peeve of mine for a very long time. We shouldn't have regular-season hockey past March 31 or playoff hockey past May 31. That would be my rule. Start the regular season 10 days earlier, say, late September. Cut the preseason in half. Let's do it already!

Addison L47: What do you get with a former top 10 scorer and playoff MVP, a warrior captain, a veteran coach, young skilled forwards, the game's best agitator, the most dominant 21 year old, fantastic goal tending, and 79 games on top of the Pacific division? Well, you don't get the playoffs, and you do get the Dallas Stars.

As a life-long stars fan, this season has been the most painful. After a brilliant start they forgot what a PP is, have no spark, just finished a terrible homestand when it matters, no finish in the SO, the list goes on. This isn't the team that was running the Pacific for the first 2/3 of the season. I guess I should thank Tom Hicks for destroying the model Southern franchise. One of the best young hockey minds in GM Joe [Nieuwendyk] has no budget room and despite his best efforts (Langs, Goose, Kari, Burrish have all been outstanding), the team won't be able to go anywhere until they get a true #1 D man - and they tend to cost a little money.

So no playoffs for three years and the future looks bleak. No one blames Brad Richards for not wanting to waste his last big money contract on a middling team with stagnated ownership talks and (rightfully) greedy lenders controlling the team. The worst part? This team is a few pieces away from being a real power in the West, but it's not going to come this year, and losing your leading scorer and power-play point man won't help the cause. Thanks, Hicks -- here's to another early spring.

My take: Interesting post. A little early to be giving up on your team, but I think you're right about Richards. He hits free agency come July 1 and that will be a major blow to the Stars if he leaves. An irreplaceable part, to say the least.